Magazine article Variety

Silverman Bravely Sheds Her 'Smile'

Magazine article Variety

Silverman Bravely Sheds Her 'Smile'

Article excerpt

Silverman Bravely Sheds Her 'Smile'

Smile Back

Director: Adam Salky

Starring: Sarah Silverman, Josh Charles, Thomas Sadoski

Rarely has a performer striven so concertedly to shed any trace of his/her comedy roots as Sarah Silverman does over the course of "I Smile Back," an addiction drama in which the acerbic comedienne gives the kind of warts-and-all, let-it-allhang-out (body parts, fluids, etc.) turn that awards consultants' dreams are made of. But Silverman's performance is more than an attention-getting stunt, and it's her hellish rendering of a New Jersey housewife under the influence of drugs, alcohol and mental illness that elevates director Adam Salky's sophomore feature above the suburban-nightmare movie-of-the-week it otherwise often resembles. Even with the buzz sure to start around its Sundance premiere, "Smile" will prove a tough sell commercially, where more sensitive types will blanch at the film's Olympian gauntlet of self-abuse, reckless endangerment and public humiliation.

Playing addicts of one kind or another has been a tried-and-true recipe for funnymen (and -women) seeking serious-actor street cred, from Michael Keaton in "Clean and Sober" to Jennifer Aniston in the recent "Cake" - neither of whom had to play a scene quite like the one Silverman does early on, as her Laney Brooks stumbles into her sleeping daughter's bedroom and begins masturbating atop the child's teddy bear. And that's just for starters. Indeed, the Laney we meet at the start of "I Smile Back" is already significantly damaged goods, having stopped taking her prescription lithium, and slipped back into a series of old, self-destructive habits: cocaine, vodka, amphetamines and torrid afternoon sex with the restaurateur husband (Thomas Sadoski) of a close family friend (Mia Barron).

The film, adapted by Paige Dylan and Amy Koppelman from the latter's well-reviewed 2008 novel, suggests that Laney's condition is at least partly hereditary and partly a reaction to the kind of anodyne, middle-class ennui that similarly tormented the characters in movies like "Revolutionary Road" and "Gone Girl." And although still a relatively young woman, Laney is beset with a sense of impending mortality and her body's gradual decay.

But the film is ultimately less concerned with the causes than with the consequences of Laney's behavior, for herself, her two young children, and her husband, Bruce (Josh Charles), a successful insurance salesman and selfhelp author who initially seems like such a pompous dolt that you wonder if he might not be the root of all that ails her. …

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